I'm not enthusiastic about organized trips that require early morning wake-up times, dictate your every move, and keep you captive on a bus for hours every day, but I do love tours that give an overview of the city. And the very best tours for a Tightwad Traveler, of course, are the free variety.
You can find a free tour for almost any city you visit, and the good people at the Price of Travel have published a handy list: list of free tours
David and I have taken several of these tours; here is a description of the first one we took in Paris in 2009.
|Fountain in the Place St. Michel, the gathering spot for the tour.|
We began at the fountain in the square called Place St. Michel and ended four hours later (with a half hour for lunch) near the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way, we learned that the Latin Quarter is named for the language spoken long ago by the scholars who studied in the area. Since the Sorbonne is now located there, the area is still a gathering spot for intellectuals and artists, but everyone has pretty much given up on speaking Latin. We discovered that the flying buttresses of Notre Dame are what help support its astonishing stained glass windows; the tuileries means tile in French, so the Tuilerie Gardens pay homage to the tile works that once stood on those grounds; and that Napoleon so loved oranges that he had a huge greenhouse built to shelter orange trees, and that greenhouse has been converted into the Musee de l'Orangerie.
There were many other facts and stories Sam told during our delightful tour, but the only detail she omitted was the one I now need most. How do I cope with my aching feet?
New Paris Free Tours are exactly that. You are asked, but not pressured, to give a tip to your guide at the end of the tour and most everyone in our group gave 5-10 euros. New Paris also leads fee-based tours of Montmartre and Versailles, as well as Paris pub crawls.
We had lunch in the first arrondisement, the heart of Paris, where our guide somewhat sheepishly led us to two restaurants--Starbucks and McDonald's. While admitting these were the least French eateries around, Sam said that here, in the most expensive part of the city, they were the cheapest. Since David and I had already noticed standard items were 2-3 euros more here than in our bo-bo neighborhood in the 10th 'eme, we were grateful for her suggestion.
If you enjoy nightlife, plan to spend lots of money. While there are undoubtedly inexpensive bars in distant neighborhoods, our guide said the trendier bars charge 12-15 euros for a beer. The cover charge in nightclubs is around 20 euros.
Our guide said Paris is a relatively safe city but watch out for two problems. If you feel a hand in your pocket and you're not enjoying it, you're probably being robbed. And, the French love their dogs; they do not love poop scooping. There are hundreds of emergency room visits each year by people who slip on the sidewalk excrement. When walking in Paris, look down!